- This is the first stage that you will encounter when starting a new game, as well as the second to last stage. When playing the first stage, it is vitally important to establish a basic level of power in the pre-stage. Enemy formations appear on the screen from the left, at the very top and very bottom of the game. They double back a little closer to the center of the screen before flying back off to the right. Try to line up with as many of them as you can while they fly to the left in order to destroy them all and collect the capsules they leave behind. You should aim to obtain the first Missile power-up and at least one Option. You may find the Double shot particularly helpful early on in the game before you have obtained both Options.
- Once the stage truly begins, you will be attacked by cannon pods both above and below you. Duckers will walk on to the screen from the left side, pausing only to aim and fire at you before continuing on their way.
- Not long after you begin, you'll see a formation of three pods along the top of the screen. These pods drop from the ceiling at various moments, typically dependent upon your proximity to them. As they fall, they release a scatter of six bullets around them. The bullets are a bigger danger than the pods themselves. Dodge the bullets and destroy the pods before they have a chance to fire again.
- Continuing to the right, you will begin to find hatches on the floor and the ceiling which periodically release a squadron of enemies. These enemies fly up or down until they match your height on the screen, and then fly forward to attack. You can destroy the hatches entirely with enough firepower.
- Next you will encounter the primary threat of this stage; large statue-like faces which emit projectiles from their mouth. They turn their faces back and forth so that they can emit projectiles on either side, although they only fire them on whatever side the Metalion is on. You can temporarily pause the emission of the projectiles by hovering above or below the statues. In general, you should fire continuously at the mouth to destroy the projectiles until you have to fly above or below them, and then fly out ahead, keeping an eye open for any projectiles approaching you from behind. Try to position Options behind you so that they can destroy any threats.
- Eventually, you will see two statue faces fairly close together with two red cannons on the floor between them. It is very tempting to dive down and collect the power-ups they leave behind, and it's completely possible to do with at least one or two Speed power-ups, but you must be very mindful of the projectiles being fired by the two faces as you navigate the ship up between them.
- Towards the end of the stage, you'll find four pods like the three pods you faced earlier in the stage. However, these pods are on the floor rather than the ceiling, and they are red, indicating that they will leave power-ups behind when destroyed. As before, watch out for the six bullets that scatter away from them as they release.
- As you approach the end of the stage, you will be forced to fly through a series of face statues which travel continuously up or down in a column, one statue after another. Naturally, they will be firing projectiles at you whenever they face you. You must fly through the gaps between a pair of statues in order to advance to the next area. At the very end, you must fly through two gaps in quick succession to reach the empty space where the boss fight will take place. Even as the last faces approach the left side of the screen, you must remain vigilant while the remaining projectiles fly in your direction.
Boss: Riot Ship
- The boss of this stage is known as the Riot Ship. It doesn't differ that much from the traditional "Big Core" boss that appeared at the end of every stage in the first Gradius. The biggest difference is the high number of gates that must be destroyed in order to reach the core. Having plenty of Options, along with the Laser weapon will help significantly against this ship. Once it is destroyed, don't forgot to fly into the core itself in order to obtain the first of the absorbed power-ups. You will at least get Up Laser if you defeated the ship in under 30 seconds, and you will get Down Laser as well if you defeated the ship in under 15 seconds.
Nemesis '90 Kai changes
Powering up in the pre-stage is a bit more challenging, and it's recommended that you start with two Speed Ups before attempting to collect anything else. As with most stages in the game, the first stage is a bit shorter in the remake than in the original. The giant face statues alternate between facing left and right much faster, allowing them to spit boulders at you more frequently. At the end of the stage, you aren't forced to fly through as many columns of rising or falling face statues, only three. You can obtain a third or fourth option if you wish to, as the game won't be too punishing yet, but if you are good enough to advance several stages without dying, remember that you can't deactivate any Options without dying and losing all of your power ups. Try to get a feel for only using two Options.
The remake of the Riot Ship is pretty much identical to the boss of the original. However, you will soon discover the most significant change in the remake: the exploding core shields. Every time you destroy a shield, it shatters in a spray of bullets that radiate outward. For this reason alone, having a Force Field during every boss fight is highly recommended. The only other difference is the two homing missiles that the Riot Ship can fire off the rear of the ship, but they are easily destroy with your weapons. When invading the core, you will only be able to obtain the Up Laser no matter how quickly you beat the boss. Watch out for the two ceiling mounted cannons before the very end.